When it comes to dining, familiarity often breeds contentment. We have a tendency to latch onto loved dishes and happily return to them again and again – consider the lasting success of the diner model Greg Horton explores in this month’s feature on p. 46, or the very concept of comfort food. But as enjoyable as it can be to revisit the known and loved, there are equally huge rewards waiting out there for exploration and innovation: I’d never heard the phrase Sushi Tapas before, but a visit to Yuzo provides an excellent reminder to savor life’s possibilities.
The restaurant is the brainchild of Tomi Le, a veteran chef who’s been running restaurants since opening Piranha in Arlington, Texas, in 2001, and who has watched OKC’s growth for some time. “I’ve been researching this city for four years, and I’m thrilled to be here,” he says. “I came up here while my brother was stationed here (at Tinker AFB) and I didn’t see the market for it then, but about four years ago I started seeing the market for it. DFW is so diverse in culture, and I thought we could do for Oklahoma something they didn’t have.”
It’s easy to find by looking for the surprised-looking puffer fish sign on the east side of Automobile Alley; the space has high ceilings and lots of elbow room, with warm tones and textures offsetting its sleek, minimalist lines. It’s also bigger than it looks from its streetside profile (although the orchids in the windows are a lovely touch). In fact, I really appreciated the decorative details throughout: the pendant lights reminiscent of pine cones, window boxes with wine bottles set into the south wall, an artistic lineup of sake and plum wines standing on the hostess’ table so they’re agleam with the afternoon sun as customers enter, even a lucky cat statue.
Visitors have a choice of open tables or semiprivate booths along the north wall, as well as underlit bar seating with an up-close-and-personal view of the sushi chefs at work on one side or the bartenders on the other. Both sides have TVs above, but the skilled performance art taking place on the sushi side is likely to be more interesting than whatever’s on cable.
Before you hit the sushi, several options from the tapas menu make ideal appetizers, whether you pick the tuna carpaccio with just a little bit of heat from its spicy ponzu, the perfectly prepared pork gyoza or the immense visual appeal of the salmon ceviche with mango/tomato salsa.
My favorite might have been the wasabi apple salmon; just the name says a lot about chef Le’s willingness to mix and experiment with flavors. The juxtaposition of tender, almost creamy fish and crisp slivers of fruit works surprisingly well in concert, and the hint of wasabi is in no danger of overpowering the blend of tastes.
In terms of rolls, follow your heart, since the variety is more than ample. I can tell you that we enjoyed the Big Easy (New Orleans-inspired mix of shrimp, crawfish and Cajun spices), Banjo (fried crab and avocado with chili) and the unconventional pop of the Bombshell (shrimp topped with tuna and strawberries in a horseradish tartar sauce – sounds odd, looks great, tastes even better). Chef Le likes the Viet Summer, which is a light, fresh-tasting seafood mix wrapped in rice paper; on the other hand, my notes simply say that “Wabi is the besssssst,” because apparently I’m quite susceptible to a tempura-fried salmon-and-cream-cheese roll swimming in a mix of eel sauce and wasabi cream. The only thing I tried that I wouldn’t recommend is the cucumber sashimi, and I’m not its target audience anyway, as I find that particular vegetable’s flavor a little overpowering.
And as bountiful as the sushi and sashimi options are, they represent only part of the culinary offerings: Some dishes will even do better with a fork, such as the rich, delicious salmon creole and the locomoco, which is Brazilian meatloaf on a bed of rice doused in a savory sauce and topped with an egg.
As you can see, there’s a lot to like about Yuzo – and I haven’t even mentioned the ramen and rice bowl options, or the ample martini menu with its upcoming seasonal specials.
Whatever you end up with is likely to impress … just please be certain to close your meal out with a tempura ice cream ball, and please be aware that they’re bigger than you think they are. Ordering all three flavors to try each is probably not a great plan.
OKC is enjoying a boom in restaurants, which makes this a great time to get out and try someplace new. Don’t let Yuzo slip off your radar; it’s an imaginative, flavorful treat.
Down to Size
One of the benefits of experience – “I’ve been doing this for 24 years,” Chef Le smiles – is a willingness to break with convention when warranted. Le said most places cut sushi rolls into six or eight pieces; he prefers at least 10 so you can get the individual slices into your mouth and expose your palate to more flavors at once. “I like small bites; I think about how you would eat it and that’s how I cut it. Most of our food is ‘party in your mouth,’ and that’s what we like: a lot of flavor.”
►Yuzo Sushi Tapas
808 N Broadway, OKC | 405.702.9808 | yuzosushitapas.com